Volume 92, Issue 22

Wednesday, October 14, 1998

in living colour


Murphy's Man more holey than Holy

Photo by Jon Farmer
DON'T BE RIDEEECULOUS. Eddie Murphy plays a smiling bald salesman in Holy Man, which is the latest attempt to boost his career out of kiddie-flick hell.

By Erin Phelan
Gazette Staff

Eddie Murphy's recent career choices, Metro and Dr. Doolittle, are leading some to question what the hell is going on with his career. His latest vehicle, Holy Man, confirms the theory that he's getting paid a lot of money to star in bad movies which will pull in numbers at the box office just because of his name.

Eddie Murphy is a funny guy, there isn't any argument there. But Holy Man isn't an Eddie Murphy movie. Writer Tom Schulman is trying to cover so many areas that nothing is ever truly allowed full development – including the comedy schtick seen in the trailers.

Holy Man is the story of Ricky (Jeff Goldblum), a sales executive for the Great Buy Shopping Network, a home-shopping channel with ads featuring cameos by numerous personalities, such as James Brown and a funny little sexual number by Betty White.

The film opens with Ricky standing in his closet, praying and chanting Anthony Robbins-type sayings. Ricky's sales have been down and he's in threat of losing his job. His boss (Robert Loggia) gives him two weeks to get his numbers up and provides him with an ivy league trained media analyst, Kate (Kelly Preston), offering an unbelievably bland performance.

Enter G. (Eddie Murphy), a pseudo-religious character who is entirely likable and charming. G. has an ability to connect with people, relieving them of their fears and answering personal prayers. He has obviously come to answer Ricky's prayers and agrees to use his charm and sell products on GSBN. Sooner than you can say "presto," G. has developed a cult following, ratings have gone through the roof and a relationship ensues between Ricky and Kate.

Ricky's life is turning around, thanks in large part to G.. This however, is one of the huge failings of the film. Director Stephen Herek expects us to find sympathy for Ricky. Though Goldblum plays the part well, the role of a true low-life who is totally self-absorbed and arrogant is hardly compelling.

Herek fills the film with many weak sub-plots and not one discernible plot line. How does one believe Kate, some hotshot brainiac, would fall for Ricky? And seriously ladies – if some guy came up to you in a bar and said, "Hey, I sell ads for a home shopping network," would you be swept off your feet?

You can't help wishing Herek would stay with the comedy, because Eddie Murphy is, as usual, very funny. The scream-laughing comedic moments are there, though few and far between. G. is a character who audiences have seen before – a bit of Steve Martin's traveling preacher in Leap of Faith mixed in with a Truman-esque feeling, though nowhere near as smart or subtle.

Perhaps it is the medium Holy Man chooses which is so annoying. Home Shopping Networks, psychic channels and late-night 1-900 lines are symbols of loneliness and unhappiness. The choice of products which GSBN sells begins as a farce – a home face-lift machine, a steamer which cooks a meal from the heat of a car engine. But as G.'s popularity grows, the executives change products and of course turn G. into a commodity.

Eddie Murphy's character seems to be making fun of the audience that worships him. Every time he jumps on the screen with his bizarre antics and deep message, the numbers skyrocket. He attracts people to the 16-inch screen, makes them feel better with his message and then sells them crap.

The odd thing is that G.'s message is so human and moral – forgo materialism and prioritize love and caring – sales of seashell pendants and juicers go through the roof. Unfortunately, this attempt at irony is a mark missed.

Maybe writer Schulman is trying to tell us something. G. makes Ricky see the light of his dirty, evil ways and become a better person – profits and Porches aren't the only things in life. If this is the case, next time Schulman should work on a few drafts before randomly throwing together an ending that has had no seeds planted earlier on. Holy Man 2 will probably open with Ricky's mom promoting a nude wrestling channel.

The nail in the coffin is the disgusting, sappy Hollywood ending – a shake your head and smile with a sigh kind of ending. Yes, in the world of materialism and capital growth, true love and decency will always shine through. Keep in mind, the message just cost you eight bucks.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998